Friday, April 30, 2010

What A Difference A Year Makes

I got into work the other morning and began my ritual of checking my email box, (the work one) my actual mail box, walking my departments and seeing what has sold or needs to be merchandised after being off for three days. Went through the special orders, checked the signups for the upcoming classes and started to settle in to being back at work. I have a somewhat revolving schedule that goes something like; five days on, one off and back in for five then off for three…kind of drives me nutty and that third day really makes me edgy. I trust my staff completely but I just feel like there is shit I could be and should be doing besides sitting on my couch watching Law & Order or movies. Okay a little side note, I did watch It’s Complicated Tuesday…dude, awesome. That movie was one of the best I have seen in a long time….great dialog and chemistry, cooking, sex, falling in and out of love. The very real connection between people that have loved, shared a life, raised kids…life, real life. Like I said, awesome.

I was just getting into my groove when Randy came in and started talking to me about how we can generate new business. I always get a knot in my gut with these conversations, I so want the store to thrive and I literally lose sleep trying to think of ways to make that happen. Fuck I even stated this silly blog hoping that I would be able to reach people, touch them and inspire them to come see us at The Wine Country. I’ve put my whole life, the good and the bad…my whole heart into sharing myself here in this space in the hope that people would feel my passion for wine, my whole hearted love for it…how it was able to change me. Exposed myself in order to create a connection, I have not that much to give, just me, my stories and my connection to wine. What I’ve learned, how wine has found a way to touch every inch of my flesh, how it speaks to me, whispers to me….purrs at me and pushes me. The way it seduces me, is always in my head and my heart…

My late night rants and ramblings are my cricket’s song….me rubbing my legs together, stringing my words together trying to weave a tapestry intriguing enough for people to begin rubbing their own legs together…start chirping and paint their own story with wine. My biggest hope is that they let our store be a part of it, think of us when they think about wine and all its glorious pleasures.

“You always have something creative to say on your blog, I just wish we could figure out a way to channel some of that to strum up some excitement here in the shop” Randy said as we were tossing ideas back and forth…I was momentarily speechless. Randy and I have had our disagreements about this blog, he is not a blog guy and for the most part sees them as a giant waste of time. Matter of fact a year ago even saying the word blog induced and almost gag-looking face for him…like he was trying to say it but the sheer ridiculousness of it all caused his face to screw all up. He started coming around a bit a few months ago and seems to read, (from what I can tell) fairly regularly now. We used to kind of bicker about it, me proclaiming it an important tool while secretly being crushed that he didn’t see that I spent my nights writing and spilling my guts, trying to be funny or at the very least interesting…for him, for the store. He concerned that I was spending all this time and energy for nothing. “Aside from giving us more exposure”….don’t even need to finish the rest of his sentence, he was acknowledging the fact that my hours of work and nakedness had in fact done something. What a difference a year makes.

We hashed out some ideas and I started an email blast about 2007 Burgundy. A vintage I went weak in the knees for the second I tasted my first little Bourgogne and one that has the press now taking a second look at. I harvested information from the “pros” and we put together a rather exciting lineup of wines to blast our customers with. I was feeling kind of driven and focused and that is when I saw him.

We have quite a few handicapped customers at The Wine Country, people that come in and need our help filling their glass, taking their credit cards from their wallets and even one customer that requires a bendy straw in order to sip his wine. These things touch me, to have a person that has been through whatever trauma that is courageous enough to have us bendy their straw, carry their case out or dig into their personal belongings to retrieve their credit card…well I admire that kind of openness and fearlessness. I envy it in a way.

I watched as he limped in rather uncomfortably, legs wobbly, leaning heavily on the cane at his left side. I was going about my business, pricing wines, calling reps, ringing up other customers but I kept my eye on him. Baggy Dockers, cane, sweater, awkward lean. I did my thing, working as always but this cane using, sweater clad figure with the tall man assisting him were in my peripheral. He seemed to be having his needs met, staff running to retrieve wines he wanted and him taking his time navigating the sales floor with a shopping cart.

I found myself watching him, the way he slowly shifted the hearty bar on the cart. The way he seemed to will his legs to power that cart. I was admiring him from afar, proud if his strength, his drive and just when I thought I could not be more moved he swung his cart around. Cane dangling on the side, tall assistant at the ready but not interfering, a face looking back at me. Eyes I had seen many times before but encased in a body that was not the one I had last seen him in.

“Credit or Debit?” I asked in my lightest most friendly voice. “Um, it’s been so long since I have answered that question I’m not sure what to say” he responded. I felt my throat get thick and I felt my eyes locked on his. “I came for some Rose. I love coming here for Rose” he said as he watched me grip the neck of his gathered bottles and drop them in a box. I laid the credit card receipt on the counter and pushed a pen closer to his fragile frame. I watched as he used his left arm to lift his right hand…the one with the curled under fingers and unnatural arch and marveled in the way he was able to rest that unwilling limb atop the receipt and sign his name with his left hand.

A stroke, one year ago this maybe fifty year old violin repairman had a massive stroke that has had him in physical therapy every single day for a year. This man spent a year re-learning how to talk, walk, brush his teeth and stand and here he was, visiting The Wine Country and buying Rose. A connection. His body may not be as able as it once was but his memory of shopping at our store for Rose was vivid and powerful enough to bring him back. “It is so nice to see you again” I said as I handed over his receipts and pushed his box of wine in the direction of his helper. “Nice to be seen” he said with a smile and slowly made his way out the door. I watched as Randy chatted with him out by his car and before I knew it I was crying. Not sad for such a strong and courageous soul, no I was touched that coming to see us was something that he wanted to do.

Vintage, watching this whole thing made me think about vintage and what it really means. One year. So much can happen in the span of a year, the good the bad, the heartfelt and the humbling and all of that becomes part of who we are. How one year can change us, add layers to the already complex creatures that we are. Each vintage leaving it little “I was here” mark on each of us. It’s the same with wine really and I for one happen to find comfort in the connection to a wine through its expression of a vintage. When tasting a 2003 Burgundy, the somewhat forced ripeness, the super soft acidity, the clumsy chunkiness of it, I am reminded of record breaking heat waves and watching footage of Europeans dipping into historic fountains to relieve themselves from the oppressive heat….tasting a wine from that vintage paints a picture on my palate of what the vines had to endure and what a winemaker was able to make from that. Smoke taint from fires, overripe or under ripe fruit, hard tannin, soft acidity, plump or thin each vintage leaving its mark, its history and it is there for us to taste. I want wine to speak to me like that, share its story, its struggles or windfalls with me. Much like the way I wish to make people understand my passion for wine by retelling the story of the evening, the people or the lust that surrounded it. That’s why I have never gotten too caught up in the whole which vintage is better deal, why I don’t measure one against the other. Was year 34 better for me than year 38? Dunno, without that 34 I wouldn’t be this 38 and any attempt to place value on one above the other seems not only silly but really missing the beauty of discovery and expression.

Now I’m not saying I want to drink, (or want other people to drink for that matter) jacked up wines and when you follow producers rather than vintages the chances of that happening are slim. A great winemaker would sooner scrap a vintage, sell it off in bulk than dump a bunch of crap wine on the market with their name on it which is why I have always been much more producer driven than vintage driven. I like that I can taste subtle differences from vintage to vintage…even dramatic difference are thrilling for me. It’s all history, it’s all a story and for me it is a very real connection to a place, a winemaker and that one year. The next vintage will just be one more for me to read, feel, taste and connect with and I find myself grateful for that.

Grateful to the Francois Chidaines, Dominique Lafons, the Alix de Montilles…winemakers that aren’t trying to crank out some soulless, timeless, placeless “juice” they are pouring me a story, inviting me to taste what each year has given them, reaching me and adding my experience, each new experience as one more chapter in their history book…weather they know it or not.

One year ago I could not know that Randy would be proud of the work I have put into this blog and even start gathering bits of my stoopid ramblings to include in our newsletter…
One year ago I could not know that a loyal customer would suffer as traumatic a life changing event as I could imagine and still find the will and want to come shop for Rose with us.
One year ago I could not imagine that the founder of Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine would be reading my French leaning drivel
One year ago I could not have known that my best friend would move out of state
One year ago I could not know that a brilliant comedic writer would enter my life and forever change me
One year ago I could not know that I would be travelling to Memphis to meet a couple of my readers
One year ago I could not know that a sweet American living in France would find me
One year ago I could not know that the wine writer for the New York Times would read me, understand me, find something in my buzzy late night musings worth visiting time and time again

This blog
My words
The Wine Country
Our mission
My voice
The wines that send shivers down my spine
Wines that seem to wrap their fingers around my throat and gently stroke the words out of me
The winemakers
The vintages
That make that all possible
Make this all possible
Our connection
To each other
Beautiful discovery of exploration…..


Michael Hughes said...

Your cricket metaphor is very very cool & spot on.

I love the story about the gentleman who had the stroke. That connection to customers is so incredible & vital & it got me a bit choked up to.

Thomas said...

Nothing to add except: Yes!

Sara Louise said...

Dammit! My eyes welled up again! Cheers to that man and his love of Rosé, because it's the little things. And cheers to you too Sam, because you rock.
J'espère que vous avez un bon weekend :-)

John M. Kelly said...

Yep Sam I got a tear in my eye reading you this morning. Thanks for that.

Sara you will be speaking fluent French before we know it!

Charlie Olken said...

A tear? Yes.

Flattered to be mentioned? Of course.

Honored to be part of the community that has formed here? You betcha!!

Blown away by the incredible brilliance of your writing? Not surprising, frankly, this is a regular occurrence for me, and for all of us.

Amazed that in your list of things that have happened to you over the last year, there is no mention of your growth as a writer, in your understanding of yourself? Totally amazed, because, Samantha, I have read today's essay and it is not just brilliant, it is beautiful.

Thank you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Dag-nab-it kids...I fear I am going to labeled "The Mean Girl of Wine Blogging" as I seem to keep making people cry. I am however touched that you all seem to be able to feel me...really quite amazing that.

Charlie Love,
I intentionally tried to leave things out of my little year roundup because I didn't want to make it all about me...although as a blogger it almost always is. I was hoping to post something that didn't make people tear up...I failed.

But if it makes anyone feel better Mr. Olken made me tear up too! Thank you all for the sweet words and support, makes my heart swell and makes me proud.

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

One of your many gifts as a writer is your astonishing ability to make your readers feel connected to you. We think we know you. And we feel honored to know you. Each post feels like it is written to each of us individually, meant only for our eyes. The intimacy you've built here is unlike anything else I know of in the wine blogosphere, or beyond. And you do it so effortlessly.

It is an honor to be connected with you, My Love. Samantha and Ron get mentioned together everywhere (see Alfonso's post today) and, believe me, it makes me look good far more than it does you credit. I am the luckiest man alive to be mentioned in the same sweet breath as You.

Ten months ago you reached out to me and my life changed in ways I never could have expected. I am simply a better man for knowing you. It seems to me that many of your most moving posts revolve around courage, this one included. You admire this man's courage, you speak of the woman fighting breast cancer, but it is your own story that forms the backdrop. You know courage, you embody personal courage, you recognize and applaud courage in others, and you touch us. And you touch us because we admire you.

I'm just jealous of whoever that "brilliant comedic writer" is.

I Love You!

Your HoseMaster

Dave said...

"I have not that much to give, just me, my stories and my connection to wine."

Dear Sam, that gets my vote for understatement of the year. Charlie nailed it, I'm late to the party but have read enough of the archives to thoroughly agree.

It is exactly your sharing of these deeply personal interactions with people that connect us all, give our passion focus, and for me context and meaning, providing perspective on how fortunate we all are as we casually and for the most part effortlessly go about sipping and socializing. I'm of the mind that these events happen to you (and us) for a reason. Brings back a distant foggy memory of Vonnegut and intersecting circles.

On a more upbeat side I'm happy to report that the tears actually dissolved the dried up nose coffee and bloogers in my keyboard caused by the HoseMaster.

Chris said...

Not only do you have courage, you have compassion.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Brilliant Comedic Writer,

Man the things you say...melted kid, I am sincerely touched by your comment and remarkable adoration. Not sure I deserve such gushing Love but I will stuff it down deep in my heart and hold on to as tight as I can. I saw Alfonso's post and just started laughing, there we are again...almost like one word Sam & Ron.

You sweet thing you and it is a custom around these parts to make the new kid cry so you have been officially initiated. Happy to dislodge the coffee boogers.

Thank you so much for the email this morning, really very sweet and it made my day...

Sip with Me! said...

Dude, this really has to stop. You gotta stop moving me to tears, I may not be able to come visit anymore if you keep making me cry! That damn Rosé story was more touching than Michael Jackson.

Wouldn't it be cool if we were like trees and we could look and see the story of a year?

Here's an interesting tidbit, I choose the same sexy wine photo and included in my blog rant today.

Seriously though, I wish I lived near you and next time I'm within a 100-mile radius, I'm coming shopping at The Wine Country! You're doing a great thing with your voice, more than merly generating traffic for your store. I look forward to lots more of your late night ramblings, keep talking to me baby, I hear you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Sip My Dear,
I never intend to make people cry...matter of fact I end up feeling kind of bad when and if I do. Just sharing my stories and you must NOT leave me, I need all the chickas I can get. If you are ever in my neck of the woods baby you simply have to come for a visit, I'll drink your Pinot of you swallow my Champagne, (had to).

Sip with Me! said...

Oh baby, I long for the day when you will put your bubbles in my mouth. And don't worry, my Pinot is very memorable and I'm certain you'll only be wanting more (had to too). Don't worry, you couldn't keep me away!

Amy said...

I think Ron has said it best, "most of your blogs revolve around courage." You admire what other people can do--but you do the same thing in a different way. Honestly, I do see your life bigger than the store, a store I know you love. Who knows what will be in a year from now.

Samantha Dugan said...

Awe, thank you my dear friend. I cannot imagine where else I would be....well aside from here waiting for you to return.

The Woo said...

Dude. Seriously. A year ago. Wow. So much happens in a year. It really is crazy. Just 365 days ago so much seemed different... yet, some much of the core of who we are is still the same. Just different parts get exposed or revealed. Really cool.

If you think a lot has changed in 1 year, do the exercise of looking back where you were 5 years ago. Seriously think about that and you won't believe it.

This is something I try to do all the time. It may be one of the most humbling things of all... and as we both know, ego is not something I need any extra of, and some humbling would do me some good.

All that being said, my bet is if you look back at all the "years" in your life, this past one is probably not nearly as 'changing' as some of the other ones in your life. As you said so well... we are who we are because of what we've experienced... you gotta love it all, the good, the bad, the fun and the scary. In my opinion, that is what makes life delicious.

If this past 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 years have been this interesting, just think about the decades left before us. Let's all drink deeply of that and enjoy them heartily. The ride should be fun!

Samantha Dugan said...

"Drink deeply of that"...I love that Woo.

Dave said...

Sip With Me said:

"That damn Rosé story was more touching than Michael Jackson."

ROTFLMAO, thanks lady, now soliciting suggestions for removal of martini boogers.

Nancy Deprez said...

Very lovely. :) Yes, one year can make a big difference in life, as it can to wine.

Glad Randy is reading your blog regularly!

k2 said...

Sam, you sleigh me! I get you and I know exactly where you are coming from. After writing my blog, for what it's worth, my boss has told me too that he wants more of that communication at our store, and lo and behold, our store site now has a blog, and FB and Twitter and all that other stuff. And the story about the gentleman who had the stroke - these are the kinds of things you hear about from someone who cares about the people, not just as a source of revenue, but really connecting and caring about them, as you would a dear friend or family member. You do this because you care about people and of course, the wine. You aren't a widget salesperson. You sell experience, adventure, poetry, and much much more. It is that passion and generosity of spirit that pulls us all in to read your exploits and your dreamscapes. I am always and forever in awe of you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Like I said, "he seems to be" but more than that it feels like he is really proud of me....all I ever wanted.

k2, give me far too much praise but thank you. I do care very deeply for our customers. That's why I commit to memory their likes and dislikes and why I melt when they come back for more of something I just knew they would love. I'm sure you know what that is like and that connection is why I still love my job.